The Shanghai Manual was established in 2011, following the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai China. The initial purpose of the Manual was to serve as a tool to support mayors and urban managers in achieving sustainable urban development in cities.

The manual plays an increasingly important role in supporting the efforts of mayors and urban administrators in advancing sustainable urban development. The ideas and spirit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and New Urban Agenda (NUA) have been integrated into the Shanghai Manual in particular, with focuses on inclusive cities, innovative cities, creative cities, low-carbon, and resilient cities, and livable cities.

Using exemplary best practices, the Shanghai Manual provides practical solutions to problems related to sustainable urban development in the real world, with a focus on urban governance and sustainable urban development.